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The Therapy Sessions
Monday, June 28, 2004

The media and Iraq

Bremer Hands Over Iraqi Sovereignty Two Days Before Deadline

How long will it take before the stories come? Just after the invasion, the media was eager to find Iraqis who said things were better under Saddam. Even though such people were (and still are) a tiny fraction to the population, their views were portrayed as the opinions of Iraqis in general.

I was amazed at how many times reporters violated the basic rules of journalism with phrasing like "Iraqis say" or "Iraqis believe." A reporter could just as easily report this: "Americans say Ralph Nader would make a fine president." No one here would believe a headline like that, mainly because we are here in America and only about 5% of the US likes Nader. But Iraq is far away. We look to reporters to tell us what is going on. The rules of journalism are especially important.

Pretty soon we will hear "Iraqis say" that the sovereignty is a fraud. The press will read George Bush's mind, reporting that sovereignty did not stem the violence like Bush thought it would. They will be forced to say he "thought" because he has never said any such thing. In fact, he has repeatedly stressed the opposite.

It's deplorable journalism, but I'm getting used to such things. (Remember when Bush "claimed" that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger? The press was never troubled by the fact that Bush had claimed no such thing. Bush said that British intelligence believed Iraq had done so, and British intelligence continues to stand behind the story).

Journalists believe they are working for a higher calling than objectivity. So soon the headlines will tell this story: Bush's hope of making this Iraq's conflict has failed because Iraqis distrust the new government, and they are becoming increasingly angry with America and joining the resistance in growing numbers.

All unsubstantiated opinion, dressed up as "The News."

Will it be true? Who knows. I get my news from many sources, and one of the most valuable to me is what many soldiers on the ground say: the situation is unstable, but it is not as bad as the press seems to think. The media is largely concentrated in Baghdad, and many have kept the same Saddam-approved interpreters they had before the war. These Baathists are stillticked that Saddam is gone.

Iraq is an experiment. I'm a scientist, and I do experiments all the time. The only way to know the outcome is to do the experiment. Predictions are interesting, but they are worthless in comparison with data.

If Iraq succeeds, it will probably short-circuit the terrorists with the one thing that is lethal to their cause: the free and open exchange of ideas. It is no accident that most of our terrorist enemies were born in the most repressive societies in the world. These are scoieties where people are only allowed to complain in mosques, and Islamic militancy is attractive for just that reason.

A free Iraq - even one with a democracy as dysfunctional as Turkey's - would be a triumph. One rarely hears of Turks who have joined Al Qeada, and Turkish Muslims are the most progressive in the region. Turkey is much freer than Iraq has ever been, and its proximity to Europe means that its people are exposed to the rest of the world in a way that Saudis or Egyptians are not.

Iraq may fail, though. After all, our fate in Iraq depends on the Iraqi themselves, and if they don't step up the plate, there is little we can do. I can think of no time in the history the US that we have fought a war whose objectives are so dependent on the citizens of another country.

The honest truth is that no one knows what will happen in Iraq. I have backed this war because I see a far worse future if we do not find some way to divert the Middle East death cult from an inevitable nuclear confrontation with the US (and we will win, but only by killing millions of Arabs). These terrorists are in an unstable part of the world, and they have nothing to lose. In the region, there are at least three doomed governments have either nuclear weapons or programs (Pakistan, Syria and Iran). Those governments will fall someday, and those weapons will be up for grabs.

In fighting this war, the terrorists are making a severe tactical blunder. In trying to spark a civil war, they are killing Iraqi civilians in large numbers. As a result, most Iraqis hate them and what they are trying to do (the press has largely missed this story). That it not to say they love us, or that the terrorists won't succeed in creating mayhem, but it makes the people of Iraq our allies.

It is clear that Al Qaeda realizes its peril: forcing Iraq into chaos is now its primary objective. They must not be allowed to succeed. But succeed they do, on the front pages of the newspapers every day.

And most of that success is becuase reporters lack the insight to know the difference between reporting the news and making it.

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